Spacer Tilting the Axis 74
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    "Red Skull uber alles!" he shrieks. "I am the master race! I am the master race! I am --" Union turns to face the ranting villain, feeling a slight smile on his face, "Hey, Skull! Lights Out!"
    Union hurls the conductive wires at the Red Skull and channels the city's power supply through them and into the ranting villain. The smell of ozone and burning rubber fill the room, and the flash and thunder are disorienting. For a few long seconds, the entire room is pitch black as the entire electrical grid overloads and shuts down. Then, emergency lights in the corners snap on, flooding the subbasement with an eerie red light.
    Union, Malachi, and Dark Angel are sprawled near each other, staggered by the violence of the electrical attack on the Red Skull. Duststorm, cocooned in several hundred pounds of concrete, stands nearby, her ears ringing painfully. Spots float before everyone's eyes.
    "Is that BBZZT! the best you SIZZLE! can do?" the Red Skull asks, rising to his feet. "You are too weak to de—KRKL!—me!"
    Against all belief, the Red Skull still stands, but the damage is done. His Gestapo uniform hangs in smoldering tatters. His flesh is blackened and burned away over most of his body, exposing a gleaming silver robotic form underneath. The horrible red visage is gone. In its place is an equally horrible metallic skull, still grinning madly. Sparks pop from cracks along the Red Skull's shoulders, hips, and neck.
    "Your end has POP! come, fools!" the robotic Red Skull proclaims as shimmering spheres of crackling energy form in his outstretched hands.
    _OK, I can't believe he's still standing..._ Adrian looks around the room, desperate to find something else that might work against this robotic monstrosity...
    A seemingly effortless flexing of his arms throws Malachi from the floor nearly to the ceiling, a quick flip, kick and roll propels him straight towards the mechanical menace, leaving him standing beside it, holding onto it's arms.
    _Oh Lord Sam, I hope you know what you're doing..._ Adrian sees what's about to happen and knows that without his actual armor he doesn't want to be anywhere near it. A brief adjustment of his new armor's magnetic fields lifts the old man off the floor, along with the case holding his armor. Union and his prize head up the staircase with all speed, hoping to avoid the fallout of the upcoming explosion.
    Things happen too fast for Duststorm's taste, but, even still, they seem to happen in slow motion.
    Malachi, with inhuman grace and speed, moves in to grapple the Red Skull. The robotic villain, in turn, attempts to spin out of the way, but to no avail. Malachi and the silver-skulled monstrosity stand face-to-skull, Malachi's awesomely strong hands gripping the Red Skull's wrists, coruscating spheres of energy crackling just inches away from Malachi's head.
    Union is up the stairs to find Ghost Rider standing guard over the Wasp, Fasces, and Warmonger. Simba is nowhere to be seen. In the basement, Duststorm moves to rear of her golem while Dark Angel rises to his feet, a look of grim purpose etched across his visage.
    "You think so, machine?" Malachi says to the Red Skull. "Then let's see what you've got." And with that he slams the robots two hands, and not so coincidentally his coruscating spheres of energy together.
    The explosion rips through the small basement room with unstoppable power. Malachi is hurled across the chamber. Dark Angel is knocked flat and then thrown against the wall again. Duststorm's concrete cocoon shatters, sending the socialite slamming into the stairs. Dust and shrapnel fill the air
    Janet watches in mute fascination as the robot hands are forced together, she quickly switches to horror as the spheres of energy crackle and explode. She watches powerlessly as the foot thick concrete protecting her gives way. The young lady was ill prepared for the shear unearthly magnitude of the explosion. All is blackness as the concussion of force buries her in a pile of her created rubble.
    Upstairs, Union is blown forward by the gout of fire and wind roaring up the stairs. He hits the floor with some grace, rolling towards Ghost Rider and the captive villains. Behind him, the stairs groan and then roar as they cave in.
    Downstairs, all is pitch black and oddly silent. Shaking his head, Dark Angel realizes that, in fact, it is not silent, but rather that he can't hear anything except for a dull, low ringing in his ears. All Dark Angel can think to do is try to locate the Skull and contain him in a Darkforce sphere to minimize any further harm he may try to cause. He's too dazed and confused to try any more of a sophisticated plan.
    Malachi slowly pulls himself to his feet, dust and debris falling off his bruised and battered body. Listing slightly first to the left, then the right, he tries to get his bearings and find the location of his enemy.
    Beneath the earth, trapped in the subbasement in total darkness, Dark Angel and Malachi both crawl about, trying to locate the Red Skull. They find each other first, and then stumble across the unconscious form of Duststorm. A few moments later, Malachi finds part of the Red Skull, his left hand by the feel of it. Dark Angel bumps against what turns about to be the Nazi monster's head.
    "Owww." Amazingly, Union is still on his feet, having rolled directly into a standing position while recovering from the force of the explosion. Still somewhat stunned, it takes him a few minutes to adjust to his new environment. A quick accounting of the villains a nod to Ghost Rider, and then turning to see the totally collapsed stairwell.
    "Good God. What happened down there?"
    _OK, this is no time to panic. Dark Angel could have teleported them all out, or DustStorm could have an air bubble over them or any one of a number of options. There's no reason to assume the worst right now. It's just a problem. Work through it. But to have any hope of doing anything, I need to be in my real armor._
    After a second glance confirms that both fascist scientists and their hulking bodyguard are still unconscious, Adrian quickly changes into the actual Union armor, carefully reconnecting the helmet circuits to the main power source. _OK. I don't have either of the entangling cables, but this gives me a better chance of doing something._
    "Keep an eye on them, and look out for Simba" Union says to Ghost Rider as he heads back up the tunnel Dust-Storm dug earlier. _DustStorm had mentioned that there must have been a launching pad for those missiles. That means there's another entrance somewhere around here. I just have to find it._ With that the Silver Avenger takes to the skies, looking for other construction in the area that might be the theoretical launching pad. Ghost Rider drags the bound and unconscious villains topside while Union goes airborne to look for another way in. It doesn't take him long. The force of the explosion that collapsed the stairs also blew out the previously concealed missile tubes. It takes some wriggling and little excavation, but eventually Union manages to get through one of the tubes and into a smallish, circular chamber. Some more wrenching and pulling, and then he manages to slide open a narrow door.
    Dark Angel and Malachi hear the grinding and muttering as Union works on the door, and then they can see the lighter patch of black against the inky darkness of the rest of the room. It doesn't take the three heroes—Union, Malachi, and Dark Angel—long to move rubble, prop up a few dangerous looking sections of ceiling, and carry the still unconscious Duststorm from the subbasement.
    The three heroes also find the shattered remains of the Red Skull. Whatever energies were unleashed by Malachi's bold (foolish?) move, they were sufficient to crack the robotic villain's exoskeleton as well as blowing off its appendages.
    An examination of Duststorm reveals two things of note. First, she is not too badly injured, but she probably has a couple of broken ribs as well as a nasty cut on her right cheek. Second, in the blast, her mask was torn. Even if respecting the downed heroine's privacy is a concern, Union and Malachi cannot but help recognize Janet Van Dyne.
    Just after the trio carries Duststorm's unconscious form back to the surface, The light flickers around Union—an electrostatic charge that disperses the dirt and grime collected on the armor after the night's labors.
    Dark Angel struggles up the stairs with the remains of the Red Skull, then summarily dumps them on the ground like so much trash. "We should not leave this unattended. The vile thing's capacity for subterfuge has no limit."

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© 2000 Mark L. Chance et al